Russian emigrant Salamon Hille founded his eponymous furniture company in 1906 in London's East End. In the first few decades, the company focused on reproducing and renovating 18th-century antiques. With an emphasis on quality over quantity, Hille employed highly skilled craftsmen and acquired many well known furniture stores, such as Hamptons, as customers. By the 1930s, Hille had established itself internationally, selling products worldwide. In 1932, after Salamon retired, his daughter Ray took over the company.
During the Second World War, the company fell on hard times due to the timber shortage, followed by a string of tragedies, including the death of Salamon and the destruction of the Hille factory and stores. In the early 1940s, Hille began repairing furniture that had been destroyed in the war for the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. In 1945, Hille moved production to Lea Bridge Road in Leytonstone. While restrictions on furniture remained in place in postwar England, Hille was forced to focus on export market.
In 1949, Ray's son-in-law, Leslie Julius, convinced British designer Robin Day (1915-2010) to come design for Hille. Day and designer Clive Latimer had that year won first prize in the storage section of the Museum of Modern Art’sInternational Competition For Low-Cost Furniture. Though Day was never officially employed by Hille—preferring instead to remain a consultant—he effectively worked as the company's head of design for over two decades, during which he originated nearly all of Hille’s products, as well as letterheads, graphics, brochures, exhibition stands, and the Hille logo. Notable Hille designs by Day include the Hillestak Chair (1951), 675 Chair (1952), Stak Chair (1954), Gatwick Seating (1958), Polypropylene Stacking Chair (1963), and Forum Armchair (1964). Possibly his most well-known design, the low cost mass-produced Polypropylene Chair was made completely of polypropylene and won the Council of Industrial Design Award upon its debut. Since then, it's been widely used in offices, waiting rooms, airports, hospitals, schools, and homes around the world. Today, it is estimated that nearly 14 million copies have been sold.
In the early 1950s, the factory moved twice, first to Hainault and again to an old brewery in Watford after the financial crisis of 1951. The company eventually recovered from the crisis, and in 1961, opened new offices. In 1972, Day’s Series E range was launched specifically for the education market and featured chairs of varying heights that would suit all ages. During the 1970s, Hille also found success with Fred Scott’s folding chair (1974) and the Supporto Office Chair (1974), which is still in production today.
In 1983, the company was sold, but the new ownership continued to work with Day, producing classics such as the Toro Bench (1990) and Woodro Bench (1991), both of which can still be seen in London’s Underground and Overground stations today. Hille continues to manufacture original designs by Day, as well as new designs, such as the SE Ergonomic Chair, which is a collaboration with designers Richard Snell and David Rowe, Birmingham City University, Hille, and BKF Plastics.